Title: Blush – Book 3 Crescent Lake Winery Series
Author: Lucinda Race
Genre: Contemporary romance – later in life
He’s always loved her but he left and now he’s back…the question, does she still love him?
Peyton Brien is the tasting room manager at Crescent Lake Winery but it's more than a job; it’s her passion. The single mother’s other passion; her seven-year-old son, Owen who longs for a dad of his own.
Years before, she fell in love with Jack, the winery owner’s son. She thought they had a forever kind of love—until he left the valley and broke her heart. But now he’s back. Friends to lovers to friends again. They’ve agreed the past is the past. But is it?
Jack Price ran to California to escape from the future his father planned for him. His passion isn’t business; it’s working with the grapevines. The years away didn’t change that, and they didn’t change Jack’s love for Peyton. And now her hero-worshipping son is wrapping himself around Jack’s heart as well. But just as Peyton and Jack’s relationship begins to sprout new tendrils of hope, a secret from Jack’s past threatens to destroy his dreams for the future.
They’re long past the sweet blush of first love. But just as red and white wines blend to form a blush wine, can Peyton and Jack find a way to blend their pasts and their present to create a rosy new future?
“Peyton, are you in here?” Kate Price walked through the door that connected the Crescent Lake Winery tasting room and Kay-Dee’s Bistro.
Peyton Brien looked up at her best friend. “Over here.” She paused unpacking the box of glasses at the bar. “Look at you in your chef coat. Hard at work this morning?” There were a few stains on Kate’s usually pristine coat that she wore over her slender prepregnancy figure.
“I’m trying some new recipes and knocked a bowl over.” Kate’s gaze took in the stack of boxes on the long wooden bar and on the floor. “What’s all this?”
“The Finger Lakes wine trail spring season kicks off April fifteenth, which is less than two weeks away, and I ordered new logo wineglasses.” Peyton held one up. “What do you think? I went with a new style for a new season—shake things up a bit.” Spring was her favorite time of year, when she believed anything was possible, and she was excited to discover what was next in her life.
Kate took one out of the open box. “Nice, and I like that they’re stemless. Classy. But you ordered a ton.”
Peyton flashed her a grin. “You forget people come in droves to eat in a certain restaurant here at CLW and ever since you got back in the kitchen from having the twins, the tasting room is busier than ever.”
Kate perched on a barstool. “Which brings me to the reason I stopped in. Any chance you want to try some of the new menu items?”
Peyton thought of the peanut butter sandwich in her bag. There was no contest. Lunch with Kate definitely had much more appeal.
Before she could answer, the back door to the tasting room opened and Jack Price strode in. “Did I hear someone say lunch?”
His tall, muscular body, blond hair, and golden-hazel eyes used to make Peyton’s heart pound, but that was ten years ago when they were a couple. Now they were just coworkers and he was Kate’s brother-in-law.
“Hey, Jack.” Peyton returned to unpacking glasses.
“I didn’t expect to see you today, Jack,” Kate said. “Don mentioned you’d be in the fields all day, pruning vines.”
He looked around the spacious room filled with small tables and wine displays. “Where is my brother?”
“He had a meeting at the bank about the new fermenting tanks you want to install this year.”
Jack rubbed his hands together, and his smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Good. That means more food for me.” He quirked an eyebrow. “That’s if you don’t mind me joining you ladies.”
Peyton said, “No problem here.” Thankfully, they had finally gotten past that awkward stage when they were in the same room. At one time, they had been friends, then lovers, and finally friends again years after he’d broken her heart. He’d asked her out a couple of times, but she’d turned him down. She doubted the feelings of renewal that came every spring would affect her and Jack.
Working for the Price family was more than a job to Peyton; it was her passion. And given how busy they’d been the past tourist seasons, that was a good thing. She was hoping for another successful season and maybe at the end of it, she’d talk to Don and ask for a raise.
Kate got up. “Give me five minutes and I’ll meet you in the dining room.”
“I’ll give you a hand.” Peyton stepped from behind the bar.
Jack held up his dirt-covered hands and gave Peyton a wink and smile. “I’ll need to wash up.”
Unaffected by his charms, Peyton walked with Kate through the inviting dining room. Small tables with two and four chairs filled the space. The large windows overlooking the vineyard allowed the warm sun to flood the room. Adding to the allure of the space, the French doors were propped open to the gazebo area, letting in the crisp spring air.
“This is one of my favorite views of the property. I’m glad you decided to build the bistro here.”
Kate held open the swinging kitchen door for them. “I almost didn’t. Sam was way too pushy and dangled my dream as a bribe just to get Don to take over the winery business. But it turned out to be a win for us. I have a wonderful husband, three healthy kids, and my own business.”
“You’re a lucky woman. I have one of the three.”
“How is Owen?” Kate began to plate their lunch as Peyton watched.
“A typical almost eight-year-old. He’s always on the move. His new love is fishing; it’s all he talks about—well, except his birthday at the end of August.”
“And how are things with Jerry?”
Peyton slashed her hand across her throat. “Dead. Turns out he was just another loser. I can’t seem to pick a good guy who wants to take things at a slower pace.”
“What about going out with Jack? He’s a good guy and hasn’t dated much since he moved back from Napa a couple of years ago.” Kate set an overfilled plate on the shelf between the prep area and Peyton.
Slowly shaking her head, Peyton said, “That ship sailed a long time ago. When he took that job in Napa, it broke my heart. He left without even a conversation.”
Kate paused. “I’m sorry. I had no idea he left that way.”
Peyton gave her a smile. “Ancient history.” She felt a pang of regret for what might have been. Back then, she had thought they had a forever kind of love. Life would have been very different if he hadn’t left. But then, she wouldn’t have Owen, who was the light of her life.
Kate filled two more plates. “Hungry?”
“Starved.” Peyton balanced two plates and walked through the swinging door backside first. Jack was on the other side of the room, looking at his cell phone.
Peyton said, “Lunch is ready.”
Jack scanned his email. There was a forwarded email from the winery customer service team to his attention. The subject line: Urgent. Please call me. He dismissed it as a mistake and slipped the phone into his back pocket; he’d let them know later.
He flashed a wide smile at Peyton and made sure it included Kate. He didn’t want to come off as being single-minded, but a very pretty petite brunette with soulful deep brown eyes was always on his mind. The biggest regret in his life was letting Peyton break up with him all those years ago, even if going to Napa was the best course of action for him and his father.
He took the chair next to her. “So, Katie, should I just eat and tell you what I like the best, or is this where I need to give a grade to each individual dish?” His fork was poised as he waited to dive in.
“Tell me as you go, please.”
Peyton looked up from her plate. “I don’t know if I can eat all of this food. But I’ll do my best.”
The trio enjoyed lunch and lighthearted conversation.
Jack said, “Peyton, I swung by the Little League practice the other night and saw you were helping out some kids.”
“They lost one of the coaches; he broke a leg, I think. The league director asked if I’d lend a hand for a couple of practices until they get a new coach.”
“Yeah, Liza filled me in. I was thinking of volunteering. I could spend time with Johnny and George.”
“I’m sure they’d love it.” She took a drink of her water. “I’m not sure if Liza told you, but there’s another practice tonight if you’re serious about pitching in. The kids have been improving over the last couple of weeks.”
“I’ll swing by. Is it at the middle school again?”
“Yes, and there’s only six weeks left, except for the final playoff game.”
He thought, That will give me six weeks to see her outside of work. “Would you happen to have the director’s phone number? I could give him a call this afternoon.”
“If you’re serious, swing by the tasting room before you head back out into the fields and I’ll write the number down. But to be an official coach, you’d have to get a background check.” Peyton gave him a side-look. “That takes a week, usually more to get back.”
“I should be in good shape; I coached the boys’ basketball team last winter.” He patted his stomach. “Kate, best lunch I’ve had in quite some time. Thanks for letting me crash the party.” He jabbed a piece of frittata before he got up and popped it in his mouth. “This is a keeper. What wine would you pair it with?”
It didn’t take Kate but a moment to turn the question around. “Peyton, what would you suggest?”
She took a bite and seemed to let the flavors mingle on her tongue. “The Pinot Gris. Unless you decide to add some heavier ingredients like sausage.”
“There you go, Jack. Our tasting room guru has made her selection.”
Peyton’s cheeks flushed a sweet shade of pink. Jack was pleased to see that some things hadn’t changed. He picked up the now empty plates. “I’ll leave these in the kitchen and I’m going to see if Don’s back yet.” He looked at Peyton. “I’ll stop back for that number.”
“Sure. I’ll be here until four.”
Damn. She’s completely unfazed by my presence. Is there any hope she might still have lingering feelings for me? He walked out of the dining room with the plates, leaving Peyton and Kate to enjoy the rest of their lunch.
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What’s your favorite part about being a romance author?
I get to write books about romance, strong women and real-life situations that try to show it’s never too late to find love and happily ever afters.
Here’s my tip to add romance to your love life:
Say I love you, not love ya- it has two different meanings.
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Award-winning and best-selling author Lucinda Race is a lifelong fan of romantic fiction. As a young girl, she spent hours reading romance novels and getting lost in the hope they represent. While her friends dreamed of becoming doctors and engineers, her dreams were to become a writer—a romance novelist.
As life twisted and turned, she found herself writing nonfiction but longed to turn to her true passion. After developing the storyline for The Loudon Series, it was time to start living her dream. Her fingers practically fly over computer keys she weaves stories about strong women and the men who love them. Lucinda lives with her husband and their two little dogs, a miniature long hair dachshund and a shitzu mix rescue, in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts. When she's not at her day job, she’s immersed in her fictional worlds. And if she’s not writing romance novels, she’s reading everything she can get her hands on. It’s too bad her husband doesn’t cook, but a very good thing he loves takeout.
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